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St. George Monastery in the Judean Desert

You know St. George, don’t you. This is the one famous for the tale of battling the dragon, which symbolizes Satan. George, one of the most popular saints, was a Sabra, born in Lydda (Lod) in what is now Israel. He became a Roman soldier. When the Emperor Diocletian outlawed Christianity in his army, George refused and openly declared himself a Christian. George was tortured and decapitated, ISIL style, and his body was returned for burial in Lod, in the Church of St. George. Legend has it  that his head was taken to Rome. Christians soon came to honour him as a martyr.

Well, the St. George after whom the St. George Monastery (Mar Jaris) received its name is altogether different. The cliff-hanging complex, with its ancient chapel and gardens is named after Gorgias of Coziba (or Koziba). Born in Cyprus c.550 AD, St: Gorgias spent much of his life in the Judean Desert.  The Orthodox monastery was started by hermit monks in the 4th Century. John of Thebes built the Greek Orthodox Monastery in the 5th Century. The Persians in 614 A.D massacred the fourteen monks who lived there. The bones and skulls of the martyred monks killed can still be seen today in the monastery chapel. The site remained unused until restored by Kalinikos in the late 19th Century. Climbing down the steep serpentine path to the rock-facing monastery is indeed an adventure. It also can be reached by a pedestrian bridge across the Kelt River canyon. This spectacular site in the desert is actually very close to Jerusalem, by way of Jericho.

The live of hermit monks fascinate us to this very day. More than 70 monastery sites existed in the Judean Desert. You can easily visit St. George Monastery and Saint Gerasimos Greek Orthodox Monastery (Dir Hajla) nearby. Both are Greek Orthodox.


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